Financial catastrophe looms for state and local governments

The impact of the fiscal crisis "will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two," warned one mayor.
Image: Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is deserted as casinos and other business are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, on April 14, 2020.John Locher / AP

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State and municipal governments across the country are clamoring for the federal government to rescue them from what could quickly become a fiscal catastrophe, saying that they may need as much as three quarters of a trillion dollars as the coronavirus pandemic dries up many of their revenue sources.

Without the help, these governments will need to lay off or furlough workers, reduce benefits, cancel projects, defer construction and maintenance and more. The impact of the fiscal crisis "will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two," warned Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio.

But state and local governments like Dayton's will have to wait until at least May before Congress considers further economic relief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated. The House is set to vote Thursday on an interim round of coronavirus aid aimed at small businesses, and while Democrats sought to include roughly $150 billion in funding to shore up state and local budgets, the money didn't make it into the final bill because of objections from Republicans and the Trump administration.

Here's what to know about the coronavirus, plus a timeline of the most critical moments:

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Senators call on HHS, FEMA watchdogs to investigate administration's COVID-19 response

A group of 10 Democratic senators is calling on the inspectors general for the Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA to investigate the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This obfuscation underscores the need for clarity as to how decisions regarding the seizure and redistribution of supplies are being made, and whether or not they are tainted with political interference," the senators wrote in a letter to the watchdogs on Tuesday. 

The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. 

Several of the senators also sent a separate letter to the accountability committee established by the last major coronavirus relief package to oversee the pandemic response, calling on it "to investigate the partisan and political nature of the White House's actions."

“Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the President's concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity,” they wrote.

'Health Force' would recruit Americans into careers fighting coronavirus

In the United States' effort to stomp out the spread of the coronavirus, two Democratic senators are taking a cue from a national program launched during the Great Depression to galvanize today's workforce.

Proposed legislation announced Wednesday by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., would create a "Health Force" that would recruit, train and employ Americans — ideally, pulling from among the millions now unemployed during the pandemic — into public health and health care careers.

The senators said the bill is a nod to the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, which was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and put millions of Americans to work building roads, schools, water lines and other infrastructure.

Read more on this story here.

NYC expanding testing, prioritizing residents in public housing, mayor says

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said that as part of a plan to greatly expand testing for the coronavirus in the city, six new test sites will open in the next few days that will prioritize the approximately 400,000 residents in public housing. 

De Blasio said masks will also be provided to residents in the New York City Housing Authority, the nation’s largest public-housing system, and hand sanitizers will be given to those who are elderly.

Pelosi says Trump gets an 'F' on coronavirus: 'Delay, denial, death'

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., excoriated President Donald Trump Wednesday morning for what she called his lack of preparation and poor handling of coronavirus testing across the country.

Pelosi said in an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that "if you do not test, you cannot possibly know the size of the challenge," which she said is why testing is the key to reopening the U.S. economy.

"For our seniors in nursing homes and the rest, as you say, there's a big toll being taken there. But if we can test and contact and isolate people, we're on a very much better path," Pelosi said. "There's a Boy Scout saying, 'Proper preparation prevents poor performance.' Well, that is exactly where the president gets an F."

"He was not properly prepared, not with the truth, with the facts, or the admission of what was happening in our country — delay, whatever, delay, denial, death," she added. "And instead we'd like to see him insist on the truth and we must insist on the truth with him."

Read the full story here.

Trump to sign executive order limiting immigration due to coronavirus

President Donald Trump said in a tweet Wednesday morning that he would formally sign an executive order later in the day limiting immigration to the U.S. for the next 60 days due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump first tweeted about the order Monday night, vowing to "temporarily suspend immigration," and unveiled some details of the plan Tuesday.

He said his order would "pause" issuing green cards — a mandatory steppingstone to citizenship — for 60 days and would then revisit the policy depending on economic conditions.

Read the full story here.

NYC Fourth of July fireworks will go on in some fashion, mayor says

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he is working with Macy's, the sponsor of New York City's annual Fourth of July fireworks show, to find a safe way to celebrate the holiday. 

"We don't know exactly what it's going to look like yet," de Blasio said in a video he tweeted Wednesday morning. "There's a lot of things we're going to have to work through. But what we know for sure is, this wonderful show will go on."

The mayor announced this week the cancellation of June's Celebrate Israel and Puerto Rican Day parades as well as the Pride March for the first time in that event's half-century history.

Fire officials warn against microwaving masks to sterilize them

Fire departments around the country are warning people not to microwave their face masks to sterilize them, saying it will likely cause a fire. 

"There is a troubling trend in which people are microwaving masks in an effort to kill the germs. A lot of people don't know that there is metal inside the mask to help you shape it to your nose. Microwaving a mask could cause your microwave to catch fire!" said a statement from the fire department in Reading, Massachusetts.

In Tennessee, the Greeneville/Greene County, Tennessee, Office of Emergency Management also begged; "Please do NOT microwave your hand made masks."

Fire officials in Fairfax, Virginia; White County, Georgia; La Plata, Maryland; and the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal's Office also shared pictures of scorched masks, and warned people against the dangerous practice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cleaning cloth masks in a washing machine. 

Tackle pandemic and climate change together, Thunberg urges on Earth Day

The world needs to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis together, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said Wednesday. Speaking at an online Earth Day event, the teen activist emphasized that actions taken to tackle the pandemic did not mean the climate crisis had gone away. 

"Today is Earth Day and that reminds us that climate and the environmental emergency is still ongoing," she said, before stressing that the pandemic made it clearer than ever that we need to "listen to scientists and other experts." 

In a separate streamed event, the World Meteorological Organization urged the world to show the same "solidarity and science" demonstrated in fighting the pandemic to tackle the climate crisis.

Russian student returns home after four days in German airport

A student from Russia was forced to sleep in a transit terminal at Frankfurt Airport in Germany for four days due to coronavirus travel bans, a Federal Police official told NBC News on Wednesday.

The male student returned to his native Russia Tuesday night as a passenger on a freight plane after trying to enter Germany to take up a place at a university in Berlin. He had previously tried to enter the country in Berlin on March 20, but was turned away because of coronavirus restrictions, officials said.

"Anyone who travels to foreign countries at this time risks getting stuck at an airport," the police official said, adding that the transit area had showers, toilets, food facilities and some field beds, which were made available by the airline. Both Russia and Germany have flight restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Britain's lawmakers hold weekly Prime Minister's Questions on Zoom

Lawmakers in the U.K. made history on Wednesday, taking part in the first ever virtual Prime Minister's Questions — minus the usual loud jeering heard in the House of Commons. The coronavirus pandemic meant that no more than 50 members of parliament could sit in the chamber at one time, and tape was placed on the floor to help with social distancing. TV screens were installed to allow up to 120 external lawmakers to take part in the debates.

Lawmakers shared images of their new work-from-home reality, involving hastily rigged iPad stands, Zoom chatrooms, and in the case of Labour politician Andrew Gwynne, a much younger visitor.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab stood in for Boris Johnson, who was still recovering following his hospitalization for coronavirus on earlier this month. Raab faced off against the new Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who used his first PMQs to question the government on the rate of testing in the U.K.

NBC News' Richard Engel on today's coronavirus headlines